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The playbook for fantasy football and your taxes

Business Finance Business Planning Investments Personal Finance Taxes
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The 2012 NFL season is in full swing. And if you’re like many Americans, you’re monitoring your fantasy football team like it’s your full-time job.

The number of people playing fantasy sports these days is tremendous. Already this year, 57.4 million people have participated in a fantasy league across the United States and Canada.

Many participate for the comradery among friends, some join their office league for a little friendly competition and others – aka the girls – form a team so they can brag when their strategy to build a killer team roster proves superior to that of their male counterparts.

But, there’s always that group of people who are in it for one reason only – the money.

If you’re playing for a cash prize or to win a dream vacation this year, there are a couple of things to pay attention to in addition to total rushing yards, completed passes, and who’s on the injured player list.

Here’s a breakdown of what fantasy football and your taxes really mean.

Participating in most pay-to-play fantasy football leagues is not considered gambling.

Money or prizes (tickets to the big game anyone?) from fantasy football come with a few tax consequences, however the earnings are typically treated as hobby income.

This is because fantasy leagues are not based on an actual team and winnings are not dependent upon the scores or performance of a real team.

For tax purposes, fantasy sports are considered a recreation activity.

Even if playing consumes all of your free time (and let’s be honest, maybe some work time), your main goal is probably not to earn a living from it.

Therefore, in the eyes of the IRS, participation in fantasy sports leagues isn’t considered a business and is not subject to more rigorous gambling taxes.

However, you still have to report the winnings on your Federal tax return. And, you are subject to income taxes.

If you earn over $600, you’ll receive Form 1099-MISC in the mail. This form reports your winnings over that amount.

Hobby expenses are deductible, but it’s complicated.

As a hobbyist, you can deduct your expenses up to the amount of income you receive from participation.

Fantasy expenses, such as an entrance fee, can reduce all income from prize money.

For example, if you paid $200 to enter a fantasy league, and won $1,000, you would report the net amount of $800 as hobby income on your tax return.

That seems simple, right? Well, this is where it gets tricky.

While you can use those expenses as deductions, you must itemize those deductions. That can be time-consuming and difficult to track.

Plus, hobby expenses are only claimed as itemized deductions if they are over 2 percent of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).

If you aren’t sure what that means, AGI is your total income minus certain expenses. Common expenses for the average American include items such as student loan interest, moving expenses and self-employed health and retirement expenses.

So, for example, if your AGI is $50,000, 2 percent of $50,000 is $1,000. That means you would need other fantasy expenses to be over $1,000 if you wanted to deduct them.

If you plan to take the standard deduction this year, meaning you‘ll take a straight-up deduction as outlined by the IRS, tracking those expenses may not be worth your while. You’re better off spending that time figuring out who will play in your flex spot.

But remember, that doesn’t let you off the hook for reporting that income!

DraftKings and FanDuel throw a wrench in things.

State law regarding contests through pay-to-play fantasy games, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, vary by state.

Last year, judgments by the states of New York and Massachusetts classified this style of fantasy sports as gambling.

While some states have concrete laws in place, other legislators are still actively debating the legality of these systems.

Because of the uncertainty regarding the regulations, it’s a good idea to double check your state’s stance before participating.

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